Resolved to tell Dimmesdale about the nefarious Roger Chillingworth, Hester meets the minister in the forest, the setting that emphasizes the isolation of Hester from society and "the moral wilderness in which she had so long been wandering." Here, too, in this chapter is the Romantic motif of the sympathy of nature with the human spirit. For instance, Hawthorne writes that the small brook
should whisper tales out of the heart of the old forest whence it flowed, or mirror its revelations on the smooth surface of a pool.
Then, too, the sunshine plays upon Pearl, but when Hester attempts to catch its rays, it disappears, indicating Hester's isolation.
While they are in the forest and Hester waits for Dimmesdale, Pearl asks her mother about the Black Man, about whom she has overheard Mistress Hibbins speak. Hester sends Pearl off as she espies Dimmesdale approaching. Their meeting after seven years is awkward at first and Dimmesdale recriminates Hester when she reveals that Chillingworth is her husband:
"Oh, Hester Prynne, thou little, little knowest all the horror of this thing! And the shame!--the indelicacy!--the horrible ugliness of this exposure of a sick and guilty heart to the very eye that would gloat over it! Woman, woman, thou art accountable for this! I cannot forgive thee!"
But Hester insists that he forgive her; furthermore, she urges the minister to start anew with her. But, his broken spirit cannot imagine doing so; nevertheless, Hester insists that he do so, and convinces him.
Wow! Lots happens.
I think the central thing that happens is that the two lovers meet and actually touch for the first time in 7 years. This has always struck me as one of the most tender/romantic scenes in all literature. After 7 years of shame for Hester (at least in the public's eyes) and 7 years of self-torture for Dimmesdale, they can just be themselves in each other's eyes ... no critical old ladies, no peering Roger Chillingworth, no judgment ... just each other's company. This is the point at which Arthur is able to just be himself for th first time in 7 years in the presence of the only person to know his sin. It's the only time that Hester can be in contact with the man who I suspect she has desired to comfort each day for the past year.
Sadly, it's the time that Hester must confess that she has subject Arthur to the machinations of Chillingworth because of the somewhat hasty pledge she made to keep their "secret." Inadvertently she has made it possible for Chillingworth to work his "magic" on Dimmesdale. Arthur's momentary anger frees her from her own guilt.
And then there's Pearl, the "living" Scarlet Letter. When Hester tries to throw off the letter and become just Hester, Pearl no longer recognizes her; you can throw off the off the symbol, but you can't throw off the history.
Lots more going on in this chapter, but this should be enough ... it's one of my favorite chapter in all literature.